All about heart murmurs

July 8, 2015 Providence Health Team

An abnormal heart beat, known as a heart murmur, could indicate an underlying medical issue. Learn the symptoms that could signal a heart problem.

An abnormal heart beat, known as a heart murmur, could indicate an underlying medical issue.

When your medical provider puts a stethoscope on your chest, your she’s listening to the rhythm of your heart – that signature “lub-dub” sound. When the mitral and tricuspid valves close at the start of the heart’s contraction, the stethoscope picks up the “lub” sound. As the pulmonic and aortic valves shut at the end of the contraction, they finish with a “dub.”

Occasionally, though, your provider will detect a murmur through the tell-tale swooshing sound made during the heart beat – sometimes it’s faint, other times quite loud. A murmur is the sound of an abnormal flow of blood through the heart valve.

Benign heart murmurs

Most heart murmurs are benign. In medical terminology, they’re called “innocent murmurs” and aren’t harmful. Individuals who are thin or highly conditioned athletes are more susceptible to them. If you’re diagnosed with an innocent murmur, your provider often will place no restrictions on your physical activities.

Some murmurs signal a more serious issue

For others, a heart murmur is a more serious matter – one that stems from either a congenital heart defect or acquired heart valve diseases.

Any of the heart’s four valves can cause murmurs. The reasons vary, but can include:

  • Stenosis (a valve opening that’s too tight)
  • A leaky valve
  • Enlarged heart
  • Rheumatic fever
  • Congenital heart defect (a hole in the heart)

Later in life, these factors may increase your risk of a heart murmur:

  • Rheumatic fever history
  • Past heart attack
  • Hypertension or pulmonary hypertension
  • Radiation treatment to the chest
  • A previous infection of the heart lining, or endocarditis
  • Cardiomyopathy, or weakened heart muscle

Symptoms to watch for

While only your medical team can determine whether you have a heart murmur, here are some of the symptoms or signs that may signal a heart problem:

  • Dizziness
  • Chest pain
  • Swelling or sudden weight gain
  • A chronic cough
  • Enlarged liver
  • Skin that appears blue – especially on your fingertips and lips
  • Shortness of breath
  • Heavy sweating with little or no exertion
  • Fainting

In the event that you’re diagnosed with an abnormal heart murmur, medication and lifestyle changes often can limit complications. Left untreated, however, underlying heart conditions can lead to stroke, heart failure or even sudden cardiac arrest. Make an appointment with your primary care provider if you believe you might be susceptible to having a heart murmur.

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